The Coastal Post - December, 1995

Marin As I See It

BY SANFORD I. GOSSMAN

While in jail because of the Marin Humane Society, I had a stroke of enlightenment that left me with a plan by which I could accomplish my goal of forcing the MHS out of the animal-control business, provide important and needed jobs, save the taxpayers of Marin County a good chunk of money, and create something for myself that would be new and challenging.

I plan to go into the animal-control business. Specifically, I am writing a business plan that will become part of a proposal to the Small Business Administration for the funds needed to construct a facility and provide it with the needed equipment to meet the animal-control needs of the residents of Marin County.

A building would be built in a carefully-determined location that would contain offices, rooms to meet other requirements, kennels, and dog runs. Outdoors, in addition to an area for parking, there would be an area where dogs could play and be meaningfully exercised. Upstairs would be apartments: about 20 of them, one and two bedroom; also a laundry room and child care facilities. There would also be a play area for children outdoors. The people who would live in the apartments would be the wives and children of inmates housed at the Marin County Jail. The inmates, carefully selected, who qualify for the work furlough program but do not have a job, would supplement the operation of the facility during the day. The regular, permanent staff would include a minimum of full-time state humane officers and a small administrative group. Everything else would be done by the inmates: animal grooming, data entry, responding to service requests, custodial services, etc. The inmates would be paid only the minimum wage and would receive no benefits because they would remain under the day-to-day care of the county. In the evenings, and through the night, the spouses—standing by in the apartments—would cover the need for emergency services. Upon completion of their sentence, as needed, selected inmates could reside in the apartments temporarily, and remain on the payroll, all while they attempt to get another, more suitable, better-paying job.

Because the facility will use inexpensive labor, the annual cost to Marin County would be approximately $500,000 less than it is paying the MHS now, which apparently uses a good chunk of the money to repair a disintegrating building and fight political enemies. At my proposed facility, careful hiring and purchasing practices will keep as much of the money as possible in the county economy.

Out of the animal-control business that is so contradictory to the "we are here to protect animals from people" mission of the private-non-profit, non-taxpaying corporation, the MHS could continue to offer animals for adoption, freely kill those that aren't adopted in a few days, have dog-training classes, cooking classes, travel tours, retail sales of pet supplies, animal blessings, offering portraits of pets with Santa, and all the other silly things that do nothing for the taxpayers of Marin County at large.

I will not proceed with the formal proposal to the SBA unless I first obtain a commitment from the Board of Supervisors that if the loan is obtained, my organization will get the contract. Supervisor Harry Moore told me that the contract would have to be put out to bid. I reminded him that for almost the past ten years that procedural detail hadn't bothered anyone employed by the County. He told me that was because there was no interest in the animal-control contract by anyone before me. My response was to tell him that was only because there was never any invitation or offer made to any entity other than the MHS. My plan will certainly be a test of proper governmental protocol applied or ignored. Stand by for "the rest of the story". All feedback will be greatly appreciated.

For those of you who are following my journey through our local legal system, as of this writing (November 20th) the transcript from the ninth day of my ten-day trial in February has still not been delivered, but at least my court-appointed attorney has filed a pleading with the Superior Court asking for its assistance in obtaining the document. Although it is characteristically inadequate, hopefully it will be enough that, when considered with the spirit of the Holiday Season in mind, Judge Taylor will sign the order sought to compel the court reporter who was in court that day to rise from the grave (figuratively) and produce the document.

Early in November, two more local judges disqualified themselves from participating in the lawsuit between myself and the MHS. Judge Peter Allen Smith, at my request, because I thought that when he screamed at me (literally) twice at a status conference in late September when I indicated that I wanted to make a sound recording of the proceeding (as I am permitted to do by California Rule of Court 980(c), and especially after he had been so very, very nice (and provincial) to everyone who appeared that day before me, was an indication that he was prejudiced against me.

Although I had heard a rumor that he was going to step aside, nothing official was conveyed as of the late afternoon two days before the next hearing. So the day before the hearing I filed a motion to have him deemed by another judge to be prejudiced towards me, and after filing it, went to his courtroom to wait for the next recess when I would be able to serve the papers on him. At the start of the recess, I rose, and politely announced my name and the purpose for my presence.

After the initial shock cleared, Judge Smith told me to put the papers on a desk on the other side of the courtroom. Not wanting to bear the wrath of the bailiff on duty in response to me walking past the bar (the fence-like structure between the gallery and the "arena" off the courtroom), as I had experienced with him before, I placed the documents on the corner of the jury box.

While I was doing that, Judge Smith informed me he was going to recuse himself based on my letter to him about the subject. I told him that it would have been more appropriate if he had made it official at least by the day before so I would not have spent the 12 hours I did drafting the pleading. He said he was sorry. I told him that I was glad he was, if he was, but that I didn't believe that he was. I then promptly left the courtroom.

The moment I entered the hall, I noticed that five or six deputies were running towards me. They circled me, but no one seemed to know exactly why they had been summoned. Seemingly, the deputy in the courtroom has a hair-trigger psychologically, and he panicked. The massive response sure did panic me. I thought I was going to go to jail again for appropriately expressing what was on my mind. After being detained for almost 20 minutes, I was let go.

The next day I filed a $10,000 claim against the county. Hopefully, it will make someone think about changing the assignment of the deputy, or maybe it will get him fired. Folks, this is not the kind of guy we want walking around the Hall of Just-Us with a loaded gun.

Later the same day, the matter was assigned to newly-appointed Judge Terry Boren. He immediately disqualified himself, demonstrating the class and character as I knew he would. Why? It seems well known around the Hall of Just-Us that I wrote to the Govna suggesting that he not consider Municipal Court Judge Vernon Smith to fill the vacancy left by retiring Judge Beverly Savitt (as had been planned, I am told, behind closed doors) nor Judge John ("I know the law") Sutro, and to either elevate Judge Stephen Graham or put Terry Boren there. (Once again, an example of the power of the pen.)

Now the case is in the hands of Judge Gerald Ragan, a retired judge from San Mateo, who is filling in for Judge Breiner while he recovers from the damage caused by the most-unfortunate stroke he suffered in April. Judge Ragan seems to be a calm, patient, fair, decent, normal man, like all judges are supposed to be. A good choice and quite compatible with what one came to expect in the department of Judge Breiner.

In mid-November, the IJ reported that Vernon Smith had no interest in the recent appointment, but that he is going to attempt to be elected to fill the vacancy created when Judge Briener retires next year. Yeah, right, he'd rather fight his way into the position of a Superior Court Judge than be slipped in by the Govna. Vernon, oh Vernon, we're not stupid. And we're not going to vote for you, either.